Nuclear Diplomacy’s Next Stop

DENVER – The diplomatic harvest from last summer’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has begun. When United States Navy boats drifted into Iranian waters this month – a development that, even just a year ago, probably would have triggered a crisis – they were detained only briefly. In the same week, Iran also released five American prisoners; exported enriched uranium, in accordance with the nuclear deal; and reentered world petroleum markets.

Relations with Iran still have a long way to go – not just in monitoring its compliance with the deal, but also in encouraging its leaders to change their regional approach, including by improving relations with Sunni Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, Iran has certainly made a promising new show of cooperation that, despite the risks, is worth pursuing.

But Iran is not the only potentially volatile country with nuclear ambitions. Another nuclear wannabe – North Korea – has shown little interest in negotiating a deal. On the contrary, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seems to be exhorting his scientists and engineers to accelerate development of nuclear weapons. The prospect of intimidating the world is simply too appealing to give up, it seems, even if it means remaining locked in not-so-splendid isolation.

Though North Korea is not yet officially a nuclear-weapons state, with its research and development programs continuing unabated, it could well be one soon. In fact, on January 6, the country conducted what appears to have been a successful nuclear test. Though it probably wasn’t, as North Korean media claimed, a hydrogen bomb, whatever it was – probably a fission bomb – had more than enough explosive power to constitute a serious threat.